MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After Ka’Raun White emerged against Texas Tech for five catches, including two with tricky degrees of difficulty, the comparisons to his older brother re-emerged.
The more apt comparison, however, might pertain to his fellow young West Virginia receivers who have shone and faded at drastic intervals this season. True freshmen Jovon Durante, David Sills and Gary Jennings all gave dashes of excitement before vanishing in subsequent games. Even sophomore Shelton Gibson, the team’s leading receiver, was shut out Saturday when the Mountaineers rode the running game to a 31-26 win over Texas Tech.
That carousel of pass-catchers, while providing years-to-come optimism, remains plagued by inconsistencies that deter quarterback Skyler Howard, whose occasionally off-target right arm also plays a part in the passing game’s inefficiency. Dana Holgorsen aims for a 66-percent completion rate, but Howard is currently at 55 percent and coming off a two-interception performance that was still good enough to beat Texas Tech.
Howard’s 149 yards passing represented the fewest in a West Virginia victory under Holgorsen.
“You can blame it on timing. You can pinpoint inexperienced receivers and dropped balls that had an impact,” the coach said. “You can talk about confidence. You can talk about pass protection. You can talk about accuracy and where the ball is going from point A to point B. All that stuff has to improve. It will take me a little while to list the order of what the problem is, but they are all in there somewhere.”
Consider these up-and-down outings:
— Durante compiled 121 yards receiving and a touchdown in his college debut against Georgia Southern, elevating him to fan favorite instantly. He now has 21 yards receiving in the last three games combined. What’s more, the zippy Durante has worked himself open downfield only to drop four passes during the last two games. One of the drops against Texas Tech followed Durante beating the cornerback down the sideline before failing to snag near-perfect throw,
“The long one would’ve been a tough catch but that’s why you’re out there to make the tough catches,” said West Virginia receivers coach Lonnie Galloway. “The deep one, (Durante) needed to make it. We throw balls over the shoulder to him all the time.”
Howard and Durante experienced crossed wires on a second-half interception thrown straight into the chest of Justis Nelson.
“Just miscommunication on whether or not he hooks or keeps going down the middle,” said Galloway. ”He had the window, so he kept going.”
— David Sills made a surprise appearance at Baylor and caught a 35-yard touchdown. The following week at TCU he dropped a certain touchdown, and subsequently was blanked by the Red Raiders.
—Gibson entered with a team-high 25 receptions and touchdowns in three straight games, but was targeted only twice Saturday. When he ceded some fourth-quarter series to White, fans wondered whether Gibson was injured.
“Shelton was full-go, but it’s one of those things,” Galloway said. “When Ka’Raun was in, the ball found him. If you’re hot you’re hot, Ka’Raun got hot so he stayed in.
Unsure who’ll heat up against Texas on Saturday, Galloway wants his receivers to sharpen up.
“We’ve just got to be there for Skyler,” he said. “When it’s time for you to make a play, you need to make a play.”